According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, vote-by-mail is in place in some form in all 50 states, with five states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah — conducting all of their elections by mail. There are several advantages to voting by mail: convenience, additional time to study the issues, financial savings from not having to equip and staff polling stations, and increased voter turnout.
Convenience is nice, and financially, the government could save money if it didn’t have to set up and staff the polls. But the reported benefit of higher voter turnout is what has many in turmoil. A higher turnout should be seen by all as a good thing, but President Donald J. Trump — along with many of his fellow Republicans — disagrees with the idea of increased enfranchisement.
In March, Trump stated on Fox & Friends that voting by mail could be “ruinous” to Republicans. But in past years, Republicans have benefited from mail-in voting. A recent NPR story noted that mail-in ballots have been beneficial to Republicans in Florida and other Republican-friendly states such as Arizona and Utah.
According to FiveThirtyEight, numerous studies have concluded that voting by mail doesn’t provide any clear partisan advantage — but both parties have enjoyed a small but equal increase in turnout thanks to its use. Additionally, it’s been found that non-voters aren’t inactive due to inconvenience, but rather because they are not in the habit of voting. The article states, “These voters’ decision to vote depends more on whether somebody around them can motivate them to vote, not whether they are able to vote by mail or in person.”
There is no partisan advantage to vote-by-mail, but what about the risk of fraud?
In April, Trump tweeted: “Absentee Ballots are a great way to vote for the many senior citizens, military, and others who can’t get to the polls on Election Day. These ballots are very different from 100% Mail-In Voting, which is ‘ripe for fraud,’ and shouldn’t be allowed!”
What is so “different” about them? Any absentee ballot is still accepted by mail.
Task & Purpose reports, “About 75% of the 1.3 million active-duty service members are eligible to vote absentee under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act because they are stationed away from their voting residence.” The same article mentions former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, noting that he has “never seen evidence of fraud in the military’s voting system when he served in the Army or later when he became a senator.”
The dichotomy of President Trump’s remark is that both he and his new press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, readily admit to voting by mail. McEnany, according to the Tampa Bay Times, has voted by mail 11 times in the past 10 years. And in addition to our military, many U.S. citizens living abroad also vote by mail. So why is it now being branded as corrupt?
This “corruption” has not been proven.
As a matter of fact, Matthew Harwood at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, quoted in The Week, says, “There is no evidence that voting by mail results in significant fraud,” and that the threat of such is “infinitesimally small.” Harwood also argued that voting by mail should be allowed, especially during a pandemic — keeping voting safe and simple.
What do the American people want?
According to USA Today, a poll by the newspaper and Suffolk University shows that “65% of Americans support vote-by-mail as an alternative, a greater than 2-to-1 margin over the 32% of Americans who oppose the option.” David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, was quoted in the article as saying, "I think it shows that people are open to alternative methods of voting, provided that they're safe, and they don't want to see democracy jeopardized in any way by the virus.”
COVID-19 has completely impacted how we are doing things today. From wearing masks in public to social distancing, everything in recent months has changed. But the changes we have implemented are for our own safety and that of our families, friends, neighbors and community. The Centers for Disease Control website continues to ask that we exercise social distancing or avoid large groups altogether. Though we hope to see a steady decline in coronavirus cases, CNET reports that the fall and winter months may bring a resurgence of the disease. We simply don’t know what to expect. If the virus continues to pose a threat, come November we may be wishing we had a secondary option already in place.
As multiple studies demonstrate that mail-in voting does not favor one political party over another, and as additional studies show the risk of fraud is minuscule, shouldn’t we at least consider vote-by-mail?
Bill Freeman is the owner of FW Publishing, the publishing company that produces the Nashville Scene, Nfocus, the Nashville Post and Home Page Media Group in Williamson County.